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Dr. Ann Powell-Brown
It is a fact that minority children as a group, particularly African American children, have lower levels of educational achievement especially in reading, than Caucasian children. Interestingly, the elementary school teaching profession in the United States is ubiquitously white, middle class, and female. The student population, however, is not comprised of these same demographics. Currently approximately half of the student population in America is made up of minority children. What educational implications can be derived from the information associated with these facts, particularly for the area of reading? With closer examination, there are many indications that the literature used in elementary classrooms is a major factor in this achievement gap.
According to the Brookings Institution, African Americans students score consistently lower than Caucasian Americans in reading and language on almost every standardized test. The institute maintains that closing this gap would do more to promote racial equality in America than any other strategy being discussed nationally (Jencks, C. and Phillips, M., 1998). Regarding this issue, there are three areas concerning the use of children’s literature in elementary classrooms that we should consider the literature available for children, the preparation of elementary teachers, and the read aloud texts being used by practicing teachers.
Without question, the use of diverse multicultural and racially sensitive literature in elementary classrooms has many positive outcomes. When children relate to and feel a connection to literature that aligns with their own cultural experience, their imagination and language skills are enhanced. The use of multicultural and racially sensitive literature has the ability to improve the reading skills of minority children (Pirofski, 2001). African American students respond more positively to books with African American themes and characters than to books with Caucasian characters. When children make a positive connection to literature their comprehension is much stronger, thus the overall reading experience is enhanced and achievement levels increased.
Multicultural literature is under represented in children’s literature overall (Slater, D., 2016). Of the literature published for children including classics, Newbery Award and Caldecott books, and other best sellers, there is a predominance of books with Caucasian themes and characters, with only about 14% of children’s literature having black, Latino, Asian, or Native American main characters.
Students in Teacher Education Programs are required to take coursework in children’s literature. While there is variance in the course content, the typical primary focus is on becoming acquainted with quality children’s literature and pedagogy for integrating children’s literature into classroom instruction. Additionally, strategies for motivating and engaging students and using literature across the curriculum are examined. Interestingly, however, with the predominance of books with Caucasian themes and characters, examining high quality children’s literature doesn’t necessarily mean diverse multicultural and racially sensitive literature will be emphasized.
Professors teaching in children’s literature courses must introduce students to high quality diverse literature such as that recognized by the Coretta Scott King Award for literature by African American authors and having African American themes, as well as literature recognized by Latino authors, such as Pura’ Belpre Award nominees and winners. Teacher candidates should learn to be sensitive to the cultures and ethnicities of all their students and use literature that resonates with all students.
SPECIAL SECTION- DIFFERENTIATION